The impact of early medical technology on maternal mortality in late 19th century Sweden

Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 1986 Aug;24(4):251-61. doi: 10.1016/0020-7292(86)90081-0.


The prevention of fatal complications of childbirth is a priority of health care in the developing countries. This historical study of maternal deaths in Sweden analyses the decline in mortality between 1751-1900 and during this years maternal mortality was reduced by 76% whereas the female mortality dropped only by 33% The decline was especially pronounced during the period 1861-1900, when maternal mortality declined from 567 to 227 per 100,000 live births. The potential impact of medical technology was analysed by epidemiological methods for the period 1861-1900. The introduction of antiseptic technique was estimated to reduce septic maternal mortality 25-fold in lying-in hospitals and 2.7-fold in rural home deliveries, implying that 49% of the septic maternal deaths were thus "prevented". In addition, licensed midwives assisting at home deliveries were estimated to reduce non-septic mortality 5-fold, thus "preventing" 46% of the non-septic maternal deaths. This could be one explanation why Sweden had a lower maternal mortality than the U.S. and the U.K. in the beginning of the 20th century.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antisepsis / history*
  • Female
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Maternal Mortality*
  • Midwifery / history*
  • Pregnancy
  • Puerperal Infection / history
  • Sweden